Glass Fusing Safety Tips
Taking a few precautions may seem obvious and practical to most of us, but we would be remiss in not talking about safety. Yes, hot glass can burn you and sharp glass can cut you, and so not sticking your hands into a hot kiln and not picking up shards of glass without being careful, can have you reaching for band-aids and burn ointments. Most of my concerned students are Paint Your Own Pottery studios and school teachers that worry about the liability issues for their own customers and students. So, let’s address some of the issues now. Here are a few basic rules that we suggest:
Have a designated place for your glass work. Lay down paper or even plastic under your cutting area so when you are finished, you can pick out the pieces of glass big enough for future use, and for the tiny pieces not big enough for future use, fold up and throw away the paper or shake it off into a large disposable bag.
Wear close toed shoes and don’t wear loose fitting clothes. When you move your arm across a table that has bits of glass, don’t be surprised to find bits of glass stuck to your shirtsleeve.
Cotton and natural fibers and long sleeves are best when firing. Wear special heat resistant gloves if you are sticking your hands and arms into a kiln.
Wear special safety glasses when cutting and special heat glasses when firing. No one cuts in our classes without glasses.
Do keep an antibiotic such as Neosporin and a box of band-aids in your glass cutting space. Wash your hands with soap and water after a cut, apply the antibiotic and the band-aid. I can cut for hours without so much as a tiny boo-boo, and then, oops, I’ll get a slice on a finger. At least, always wash with soap and water, even if it is not bad enough for a band-aid.
Especially for children and beginner projects,
know that you can have pre-cut or frit glass projects available.
When finishing glass projects during cold working, wear masks or respirators. It’s the glass dust, also called silica, that when you breathe then can cause damage to your lungs and/or eyes. For almost all of the programs, packages and projects we offer, this won’t be an issue except dealing with the fired fiber paper which we will discuss to help you.
Glass Dust and Glass Particles
Breathing silica dust can be a big problem if you are using a grinding machine. This is where you would want to be sure to wear safety glasses and a respirator. The grinder sprays fine particles of glass or silica dust into the air. Of course, keeping plenty of water on hand for this process is a must to keep the head of the grinder wet to cut down on the dust. Almost all projects we offer do not really need a grinding machine. Smoothing off a sharp or jagged edge of a piece that came out of the kiln, can generally be filed down with our hand grinder tools. Yes, most definitely, wear your dust mask and safety glasses when you do this.
Basic Kiln Safety
Follow the kiln manufacturer’s guidelines for where to place your kiln. The Uniform Mechanical Code says kilns should be, MINIMUM, at least 36 inches away from anything combustible and sit on their kiln stands and on a concrete floor. I wouldn’t even put combustible things such as anything flammable that close! Paragon Kilns recommend 12” from non-combustible materials and Skutt and Olympic Kilns 18” away. Always have a fire extinguisher nearby and be sure you know how to use it.
Kilns not only get hot inside, but on the outside and the handles. So make sure you wear gloves or use a mitt if you need to open the kiln while it's hot. I keep 2 mitts near the kiln – one to hold the kiln and the other to open the door during the flashing stage. Most kiln companies will tell you to never open your kiln when it is hot or firing, but in the glass fusing processes, you just have to such as when you FLASH your kiln to cool it down quickly. (Only do this if firing jewelry - with anything over 3 x 3, you can cause thermal shock.) You may also have to open your kiln when doing advanced techniques such as raking and combing. Just be sure to wear your correct safety glasses and and correct heat resistant gloves.
Using the correct kinds of safety glasses protect you when you look into a kiln that is firing or when the glass is glowing red. The molten glass gives off infrared rays that can cause cataracts. So, DON’T look at the pretty glass without your special infrared-blocking glasses. There is much more info on the right kinds of safety and heat blocking glasses available from your hardware store or in that fabulous glass book - Warm Glass by Brad Walker, which we highly recommend.
Knock on wood, but I’ve never burned myself from a kiln or even an oven. But I have with electric hair rollers and heating irons. Go figure. I can’t say you will never burn yourself from using a kiln, but you might, so you should be prepared.
If it is a first degree burn meaning ‘ouch’ and then it gets red and a small raised area appear, running it under cold water is best. You can use Aloe Vera. The plant itself is best, not some cream derivative. And for goodness sake, don’t put butter on it!
If it is a second degree burn, it will turn into a real blister and swell. Again, cold running water, Aloe Vera and it might take a bit longer to heal.
If it is third degree and the skin is black, don’t run it under water. Cover it with clean cloth - not tightly, but lightly, and get to the doctor.
The Basics of your Safety Equipment
So, here are the basics to have on hand right in your glass work area.
Fire Extinguisher - You probably already have at least one of these in your home and if you already have a studio or store, you probably have several.
First Aid Kit - band-aids, Neosporin, aspirin or Tylenol, bandages and first aid tape and small scissors.
Safety glasses - You should have enough cutting safety glasses on hand for all customers and/or students and then one or two special infrared pairs for yourself or anyone else looking into a hot kiln or at molten glass.
Gloves - Some heat resistant gloves are expensive and long enough to cover your hand and lower arm. You, for the most part, will not be sticking your entire hand and arm into the kiln at 1500 degrees, so using oven mitts are fine for flashing.
Respirator or masks - If you are using a grinding machine, you must have the respirator. For grinding with your file, a simple dust mask will suffice. Did you know you should be using a mask when you use a dremel?